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Tinos – A tale of Our Lady carried on the wind

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Photographer and travel editor

01/11/2016
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The most “misunderstood” island of the Cyclades probably owes a great deal to … the Virgin Mary. For it is Her benevolent presence that radiates through all this island’s immaculate, ineffable beauty.  Unfathomable and ceaseless, neither words nor images can do it proper justice. It is an idea and a feeling. Like the breeze in your face, the breath inside you, a subtle, silky caress that wouldn’t wake a baby. A whisper with the clarity to reach your soul. It has power and continuity. It uplifts and carries you away; conferring all its grace upon you to make you beautiful too. Yes, on Tinos you are launched into a nostalgic fairy tale with no beginning or end…

Always the light

Until the 90s, Tinos was unused to tourists. Rather it played host to hordes of pilgrims flocking on their knees to pay homage or make a pledge in the Church of Our Lady. With my innocent teenage version of guilt, I too visited Our Lady.  It is said that when visitors asked in the Hora “What’s on the rest of the island?” the answer was “Nothing” and they left happy… And this is more or less how Tinos remained as unspoilt, virginal and magical as all the Cyclades should have been. The island of Aeolus, Amphitrite, faith, art, the Holy Virgin- I keep the old name “Erousa”, which for me can better encompass all these different guises.

I delve into the island’s history, lose myself in its intriguing threads and am awakened by the light of Xompourgo, which seems to project itself across the landscape it surveys.  A light that lends its decorative hues to the images around it, enchants the locals and seduces the visitor. “It is the muscovite that makes it appear that the granite is lit up,” Sophia, a geologist from Tripotamos, tells us. “A shining giant, creating mysterious scintillations, dressing the island in its own special light.”

 

At home with the birds …

Villages and hamlets are usually divided into upper (pano), lower (kato) and outer (exo) sections, sometimes making the geography of the island into a playful conundrum.  What you can rely on, however, is the ubiquitous presence of the dovecot. I wonder who first turned the crafting of these little homes into an art form. Whoever they were, they certainly left a unique heritage, with the island peppered with these mini architectural marvels.

I am always walking up and down steps. That’s how the little villages of Pano Meria are built, on different levels, full of arched alleys and homes with peaceful, shady yards. In Triandaros, my first pilgrimage is always to the cliff’s edge, from where the view is stunning. A tour along its original maze-like alleyways comes next. The lintels above the doors with the faded paintwork are pure gems and flowers tangle decoratively among the hotchpotch of little dwellings. Enchantment that prepares you for what is to come …

Tinos is inexhaustible. A honey and almond kiss sprinkled with marble dust – a pledge to Our Lady to bring us back

The road takes us to Leivada, a remote beach in the north. On the way we see trees bent by the ceaseless winds, oases of oak, goats grazing and hawks wheeling in the skies at the foot of Mt Tsiknias. As you round the bend, the beach reveals itself in all its glory. Weather beaten by the north wind, huge waves breaking on the rocks and a lucky few visitors to witness a seascape straight out of a movie. As you approach, there is a little tavern and next to it the river that winds up on the beach flanked by tamarisks. To the left the windswept rocks play expressionist games with the light. Couples add gusto to their romance in the sight of all this wild beauty… some bolder visitors swim, others play the guitar under the rock sculptures. You instantly feel a part of a landscape quite unlike anything else you can find in Greece. Pick a stone for positive energy and drink a little ouzo – a teardrop and a libation to the beauty of the world. Along the dirt road to the stone built lighthouse to the east, everything is bathed in deep blue; a clear sky and powerful waves make a pact to create rainbows to drape across the water.

Back in the hinterland, Myrsini stands out from a distance with its ornate bell tower, the highest on the island. Excellent samples of its art and aesthetics, the churches of Tinos constitute major tourist attractions. On the way down to Steni are images left untouched by time. As soon as the wind stops, groups of friends come out, children chase each other and always end up in an affectionate bundle. Three café -cum- corner shops make regular meeting places. The legendary carvery Duar has been operating on the island for more than half a century. Delicious louza, a kind of sausage, home grown courgettes, mom’s cheese, local wine and meat from the owner’s own livestock end the day in a tasty and fun loving way.

We go down to the neighbouring bay. The ships move slowly against the backdrop of the lights of Syros. We ended up in a different place to where we intended, but on Tinos, no way is the wrong way… And how much there is still to see… but we have run out of time for everything: the temple of Poseidon in Kionia, the Halepas Exhibition in Polymerio, the Ursuline Monastery, the “Fysaera” tavern, the Koumaros café, Tsokli Museum, Pahia Ammos beach… An evening in legendary “Kaktos”, “Argonautis”, “Koursaros”… Walking to Kavalourko and the marble path in Ysternia where the sculptors carved their loved ones…

Text: Thalia Nouarou, Yiannis Marinakis

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